Strategic Mapping for Networks

Posted by Steve Waddell in Net Dev on March 10, 2010

We can easily be overwhelmed by the complexity of large networks where there are many different organizations and people involved. Clearly “seeing” relationships between organizations, people, and key concepts is important for successful network strategies.

To vastly enhance and speed understanding of these relationships, I’ve worked with various forms of “mapping”. Network maps are diagrams of lines or arrows (representing connections) and nodes (representing individuals, organizations, ideas) that can visually communicate tremendous amounts of information much more easily than volumes of text. Here are some approaches I’ve found useful:

Web crawls

This approach maps and analyzes relationships between URLs. This gives a picture of how organizations and issues are connected virtually that is increasingly important in any strategy. Since URLs are usually associated with organizations, crawls quickly identify organizations working in a particular issue system. The crawls maps links on one web-site to another webs-site.

Example: Working with a tool developed at the University of Amsterdam, we did crawls to identify networks in the global finance system for the Global Finance Initiative in order to identify key organizations and people to develop a change strategy. Map 1 is of NGOs engaged in the global finance debate; it suggests that surprisingly they do not have well defined relationships with perhaps the most influential players in global finance, including the Bank for International Settlements and the Financial Stability Board.

Map 1: Web Crawl

Social/Organizational/Inter-Organizational network analysis (SNA/ONA/IONA)

This is classic social network analysis applied specifically to understanding relationships within and between organizations. The existence and relative importance of relationship, connections or communication flows between individuals and organizations is described by these approaches.

Example: When the Global Reporting Initiative considered its strategy for developing a South African network, we used social network analysis. This produced Map 2, which shows distinct groups of organizations. This emphasizes the importance of weaving the groups together, and the value of working with organizations that are well-connected in the groups. Another product was a guide on how to initiate a network.

Map 2: Inter-Organizational Social Network Analysis

Value Network Analysis (VNA)

Key roles and value outputs in an issue system are defined through VNA, helping to shift stakeholder mindset toward a network perspective beyond their usual organizational or institutional focus. This approach has been developed by Verna Allee. It is available for immediate access and applied use at

Example: When the European Commission wanted to understand how to enhance the process of innovation, we applied VNA using the application to produce a report with four archetypes (models) for moving from an academic idea to a product for a consumer, with important policy implications. Verna emphasizes the importance of including both contracted tangible exchanges such as money, and intangible ones such as information. This is illustrated in Map 3

Map 3: VNA map of innovation (Dashed lines are intangibles, solid lines are tangibles.)

Strategic Clarity Mapping (SCM)

SCM generates a mutual understanding among diverse players’ of their respective strategies to address an issue – including their mental models about change strategies. This approach has been developed by Jim Ritchie-Dunham of the Institute for Strategic Clarity.

Example: When CARE in Guatemala pondered the increasing poverty, despite its best efforts for many years, we used SCM to change the strategic relationships of CARE, and shift it from project-level to system-level strategies (from building wells to creating a system to build wells). Map development is documented in a learning history I wrote.

Another examples is with Youth Employment and Sustainability (YES), a Global Action Network. Institute for Strategic Clarity Vice President Luz Maria Puente worked with YES’ Latin American region, to support the region’s and the sub-countries planning. It revealed both distinctions between the countries’ strategies to help them learn from one another, and identified weaknesses and strengths of their strategies. Map 4 shows how Chile and Mexico develop entrepreneurial skills, so young people can start their own business, by providing them support through an incubator system. This work with YES is described in a Working Paper just published today.

Map 4: SCM Complex view of poverty (Click on the map to enlarge.)

A key contribution of these mapping approaches is their ability to generate strategic discussions. People can see links that they can question, and discuss how to strengthen them in a very strategic manner. They identify key leverage points — points that will help "move" the entire system because of their connections to other points.

Web crawls are definitely the easiest to undertake. SNA and VNA and SCM in particular are best developed collaboratively with system participants. With this approach, even the SCM insights and outputs are well understood. You can find a paper comparing these methods here. And join me for a free webinar March 17 to further explore these methods; you can find more webinar information here.

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